Director    Gary Chapman
Starring    Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, Hugh Laurie
2 stars

26th March 2005

I'm starting to forget what real humans look like, it's been so long since I've seen one. Firstly, the fact that it's half term here at university and the campus is more deserted than a Peter Andre concert doesn't help matters. And secondly, the last three films I've seen have been completely computer generated. The Incredibles, for all its subtle animation and genuine humanity, has not a single actual homo sapien in sight. Robots, as you might have guessed, is populated by robots. And Valiant, the first ever British CG movie, chronicles the daring adventures of messenger pigeons during the second World War. I think I may well have to go and see Nine Songs next week to remember what humans are like, and why they're so cool.

But let's put the hardcore supersex to one side and focus on the matter at hand. Pigeons. I don't know about you, but pigeons scare the living shit out of me. They're like the zombies of the bird world - they're fairly harmless looking on their own, but get them in a pack and they become a terrifying force to be reckoned with, all pointy beaks, tiny feet and simmering disease. Brrr. Perhaps not the best subject for a kid's film then - presumably there's some sort of shady pigeon appreciation society pulling the strings behind the scenes. We're introduced to young Valiant (Ewan McGregor), a pint-sized featherbrain who's eager to join the RHPS (RAF Homing Pigeon Service) and fly messages back and forth to aid the country's war effort. Together with his unlikely chum Bugsy (Ricky Gervais in his first movie role) and a number of other stereotypical characters with plucky Brits providing the voices, he sets out to collect a vital message from France and return home, all the while avoiding the distinctly Germanic Falcon brigade.

Valiant is a distinctly British film. And by distinctly British, I don't mean charismatic, gritty and quaint. I mean because it's pretty crap. It's a shame, but national pride aside, this doesn't even compete with the big pictures emerging from the US at the moment. I promised myself before I went in that I wouldn't compare it with the Pixar movies we all know and love, but it's difficult to love a movie that actually uses "we have ways of making you squawk" as a joke. Ewan McGregor is clearly in need of another new motorbike, as this is his second animated movie of the month, both of which probably lined his pockets very nicely indeed without taxing his acting glands too much. Even Jim Broadbent, fast replacing Brian Cox as the ubiquitous Brit of the moment, makes his second CG appearance this week, in yet another Robots parallel. Thank goodness, then, for the inclusion of Ricky Gervais in the voiceover cast. Amongst an acclaimed bunch including John Cleese, John Hurt and Tim Curry, Gervais adds that nervous charm and overly confident wit of his to the soap-dodging Bugsy and delivers his lines in his own inimitable style, no matter how odd it is to hear the words of Brent coming from the beak of a pigeon.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the quality of the visuals on show - it's the alarmingly dull script and overly familiar storyline that will have you struggling to keep your eyes open. How many more films can we be expected to sit through where a young character overcomes adversity to live out their dreams, whether they be pigeon, robot or dung beetle (coming soon in 2007, probably)? At just over 80 minutes long, Valiant feels less like a film and more like an animated Christmas special on BBC1 - who knows, maybe Nick Park could have done something with it. And does anyone really give a shit about pigeons anyway? I'm pretty sure it was the humans that did the majority of the work, but how many films do we see about the soldiers in battle? None.

So, a valiant effort from the plucky Brits, but as usual, the Americans can lay claim that they had this war won before it had even started.

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